"Have you heard about the movie?" Dorota asked.
"What movie?" said Sylwia. Why, she thought, am I always the last to know? Don't I read the newspaper? Don't I watch the news every night? They were in Dorota's kitchen, at opposite sides of a little aluminum table, sharing a freshly made pot of tea. Dorota had begun a long sip during Sylwia's question that she took her time to finish as Sylwia awaited her answer. How smug she was! Just once, Sylwia would like to...but she did not have the chance to finish her thought, because Dorota put her mug down on the table with a mighty thump, tea slopping over its side, and said, "It's called The Garden of Evil. It's about a fictionalized Jewish painter from Hungary who was murdered in a concentration camp--they're going to film a few of the scenes here." Here was a little town just outside of Warsaw.
"They're looking for extras," Dorota said.
"Oh," said Sylwia, "A Holocaust movie." She wasn't sure how to feel about that. But Dorota had been an extra the last time an American movie was filmed in Poland and she never stopped crowing about it. There she had been on the screen, but so much bigger! "It was like I was seeing myself through a magnifying glass," she had said. And the food! And the stars! And the sets! She would often say, "If only life could be that beautiful!" Perhaps it could be, sometimes.
The Polish extras had been split into two groups for a montage of concerts given by the young Chopin: asked to portray either the attendees at the receptions given for him in the aristocratic salons of the capital or the members of the audience for his public charity concerts. How pleased Dorota had been to find herself among the smaller group chosen to depict the members of high society! "We were selected especially by the director," she had said triumphantly. "He picked us out from our photographs!" Dorota had even been allowed to keep part of one of her costumes: a velvety brown hat, its fibers woven to suggest strips of bark, topped by a bright green feather. She'd worn it for a garden party scene set in a forest clearing, and whenever she wore it, no matter how Sylwia tried to deny it, she felt like a deer in that forest during the hunt afterward, pierced by a quiver-full of envy-tipped arrows.
Just as Sylwia was about to excuse herself to go home, where she could think more clearly about whether or not she was interested, Dorota brought out a small chocolate cake of the kind that always signaled the imminent arrival of some especially interesting piece of information. "They're making a special offer," Dorota said. "They'll pay extra to anyone who's willing to appear naked--it's for a selection scene at the camp. They say it's very important for the story."
Sylwia wondered how her husband would feel about that.
"You'll be in a crowd," said Dorota. "The audience probably won't even be able to make out your face. You might not even end up in the shot."
Sylwia could hardly refrain from rolling her eyes. You'd think Dorota had been in a hundred movies. "Are you doing it?" she asked.
"Of course!" Dorota said. "Think of the money! But it's more than that."
When Sylwia was young and first dating her husband, he had once told her, "You're so beautiful--they ought to put you in the movies."
"I'll do it too," she said.
Dorota explained that all they had to do was to send in a photo and some basic biographical information--their height, weight, and age, as well as whether or not they colored their hair. Sylwia soon regretted having agreed to let Dorota handle everything for both of them. It would be just like Dorota to take her time to let Sylwia know what the director had decided, once she found out. And what if they wanted Sylwia, but not Dorota--would Dorota pretend that they had both been rejected? How horrible Sylwia felt about entertaining such suspicions! She and Dorota had been friends since they were children. Their husbands often joked that this was why they still squabbled at times like over-sensitive schoolgirls. So it was a great relief when they were...